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It's time to stop apologising for being Conservative

RedMeat The über-modernisers' idea that the main Tory challenge is to avoid being offensive is raised (yet again) by two columnists in today's newspapers:

Andrew Rawnsley's column in today's Observer:

""Vote for change" is the cliched but simple Tory election slogan. It ought to be their most powerful cry against a 13-year-old government. Yet it will be robbed of much of its potency if voters look at the Tories and conclude that they are offering only to turn the clock back. I asked the Tory party chairman, Eric Pickles, what was the single greatest electoral vulnerability of the Conservatives. He replied without hesitation: "Same old Tories.""

Matthew d'Ancona in The Sunday Telegraph:

"[The Conservative Party] is seen – or used to be seen – as a club, a pressure group for the privileged, a self-appointed elite that believes it is entitled to rule... I agree with those who say that the specifics of the Ashcroft case will be quickly forgotten. But the damage is already done. The process is incremental: the Deripaska affair and George Osborne’s yacht-fondling, Zac Goldsmith’s non-dom status, the Joanne Cash episode, and Sir Nicholas Winterton’s declaration that standard-class rail passengers are “a totally different type of people... Each story does a little more to confirm the voters’ residual fear that the Tory party is a political front for a gang of people who want to govern so they can do the hell they like."

Both columnists are wrong. Over the last 24 hours Guido has done a good job of taking on this constant wish to apologise for being Conservative. I also had a tentative go on Friday.

In starting the Renewing One Nation unit and helping IDS start the Centre for Social Justice I'm fully committed to a broader and more authentic conservatism. The shields of ConHome point to the need for breadth. Becoming the party of one nation again is a huge prize. But I always argued that we needed to broaden rather than transform the party. The rediscovered commitments on poverty, education, healthcare and the environment needed to be integrated with the more familiar commitments on fighting crime, lowering taxes, protecting the nation's borders. It's the 'And theory' that I've banged on about constantly.

If only the party leadership had simultaneously talked about Europe, tax, crime and immigration alongside civil liberties, protecting the NHS, helping the poorest people of the world and candidate diversity we would not be in such an opinion poll pickle now.  The Right of the party would never have got so unhappy. Fewer voters would be confused as to what the party stands for. There would be less opportunity for the media to present the party as u-turning on strategy - now that candidates are finally being allowed to mention voters' number two issue, immigration.

Screen shot 2010-03-07 at 10.26.55 Today's BPIX poll for the Mail on Sunday (see right and scroll to bottom of this page for details) suggests voters are twice as likely to favour the Guido/Montgomerie bloggers' view than the Rawnsley/d'Ancona dead tree press view. Twice as many voters say that the Tories' number one weakness is that we are lacking a clear message. That's twice as many as say that the top weakness is that the party hasn't changed*. In other words it's time for less red Toryism and more red meat Toryism.

The same survey also finds that a tougher approach to crime and immigration are the top two issues that would encourage someone to vote Conservative**.

The good news is that the Tories do have strong policies on immigration, crime... and taxation. We now need to deploy them.

In terms of clarity of message there has been much improvement in the last seven days. Six messages may still be too many though. I'd have three messages on every leaflet:

(1) something on the economy, emphasising how Brown has failed on controlling debt, cutting waste and regulating the banks;

(2) something on crime and immigration; and

(3) something on protecting the NHS and the most vulnerable.

Tim Montgomerie

* The Tories certainly have changed btw. See the pledges to protect the poorest and the NHS. On civil liberties the party is very, very different from the Michael-Howard-as-Home-Secretary era (although possibly less in step with mainstream public opinion). The parliamentary party will be less male and less white. The party is also much more liberal on gay rights.

** The top finding from BPIX is also very interesting: 45% think a hung parliament will damage the UK economy. Only 23% say it won't. That's a vital issue to play up in Lib/Con marginals.


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